In less than 4 years, this entrepreneur built a $23 billion company

Colin Huang

In less than 4 years, this entrepreneur built a $23 billion company and became one of the richest people in China. Here’s what he knew that most entrepreneurs don’t.


Colin Huang is the founder and CEO of Pinduoduo, a shopping app used by as many as 5 million people in China every day. When Huang’s company went public in late July at $24 a share, it was valued at just under $24 billion, making Huang the 12th-richest person in China.

All of this took him less than three and half years.

While it may seem as though Huang’s success occurred overnight, one early investor in Huang’s company, Ron Cao of the Shanghai-based venture firm Sky9 Capital, says Huang’s foundation as an entrepreneur was decades in the making. Cao said his firm was extremely impressed with Huang’s entrepreneurial qualities, leading it to invest in Pinduoduo’s Series B round along with Sequoia, Lightspeed, and Tencent.

Here’s what Huang knows that most entrepreneurs might not, according to Cao:

He understands the international markets better than most.

“He’s probably more sophisticated than the typical US entrepreneur because he’s seen more, because he’s international, because he’s bilingual,” Cao said of Huang.

Huang spent several years in Silicon Valley working as an engineer at Google in the early 2000s, something Cao suggests may have led to his well-rounded knowledge of international markets.

“US entrepreneurs don’t typically understand the international market so well,” Cao said.

He has decades of entrepreneurial experience.

Pinduoduo is far from being Huang’s first company.

Cao described Huang as a “serial entrepreneur” who previously built three companies: two shopping startups and a gaming studio called Xunmeng.

While none of these early companies turned out to be a blockbuster success, “he made money on them,” Cao said.

Huang’s long-term entrepreneurial experience was a defining factor in Sky9’s investment, Cao said.

“It takes lots of effort to run something,” he said. “You don’t learn how to be a CEO in school, so when a young person starts something early, it shows that they’ll probably have more of a product-driven company.”

He knows how to spur viral, social-based shopping.

A big part of what accounts for Pinduoduo’s success is the way it incentivizes shoppers to share on the platform — even though it’s a shopping app, not a social-media site.

Pinduoduo connects groups of buyers to suppliers, who ship their steeply discounted products once a group has agreed to buy. If people are excited about a product, they’re likely to share it on Pinduoduo to get their friends and family to get in on the deal.

Cao described this as “social commerce,” a form of shopping that leverages the power of personal networks to the advantage of both the business and the consumer.

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He has a global vision.

While Pinduoduo’s services are available in only China so far, Cao suggested the platform might soon be poised to expand.

After all, Cao said, Huang’s vision is global.

“He thinks of this as a global play,” Cao said. “He’s got the advantage because all of his merchants are already Chinese.”

For now, Pinduoduo is focused on affordable, sometimes cheaply made products. But Cao hinted that this too could change in the future.

“His platform is suited for lower-end products for now — you’re not buying high-end luggage on Pinduoduo, for example,” Cao said. “But all of that stuff, having the greater supply chain is a way of learning how the model works. So they’re ahead. There’s many opportunities for their expansion, and they’re thinking globally.”

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